Thursday, December 24, 2009

Film feature: Critics' group cheers 'Up in the Air,' 'Hurt Locker'

Director Kathryn Bigelow on the set of The Hurt Locker.

By Hap Erstein

See, I told you Up in the Air was the best picture of 2009, and now I have two critics’ groups -- the two that Palm Beach ArtsPaper just happens to be a voting member of -- to back me up.

Both the Southeastern Film Critics Association (SEFCA), representing reviewers in nine states in this region, and the Florida Film Critics Circle (FFCC), representing reviewers in our state, chose the Jason Reitman film about the expert frequent flier whose life traveling the country firing workers as the year’s best. Look for it to score highly when Oscar nominations are announced next month.

SEFCA was also smart enough to recognize (translation: they agreed with me) George Clooney, who stars in the film, as Best Actor and cited Reitman and Sheldon Turner for Best Adapted Screenplay. Up in the Air walked off with three awards from the group, while no other film won more than one award, an indicator of widespread quality this year.

Unlike the Florida critics’ circle, SEFCA anoints a collective 10 Best List. This year, it is:

1. Up in the Air

2. The Hurt Locker

3. Up

4. Inglourious Basterds

5. A Serious Man

6. (500) Days of Summer

7. Precious: Based on the Novel ‘Push,’ by Sapphire

8. The Messenger

9. Fantastic Mr. Fox

10. District 9

I only agreed with the group on four films -- Up in the Air, A Serious Man, (500) Days of Summer and Precious. I don’t have any major quarrel with the rest of SEFCA’s picks except Inglourious Basterds, which seems to me to be inferior Tarantino, and dreadful spelling.

Kathryn Bigelow wrestled the Best Director award away from Reitman, winning for her intense Iraq War film, The Hurt Locker. Meryl Streep, who probably doesn’t have room for any more awards, was named Best Actress for Julie & Julia. Best supporting actor was Christoph Waltz, the Nazi hunter of Jews in Inglourious Basterds, and supporting actress award went to Mo’Nique, the abusive mother in Precious.

Other SEFCA awards included: Best Original Screenplay to Scott Neustadter and Michael H. Weber for (500) Days of Summer, Best Foreign Language Film to Summer Hours (France), Best Documentary to Food, Inc. and Best Animated Feature to Up, the umpteenth win for Pixar Studios.

The Southeastern Film Critics also recognizes a film that “that best embodies the essence of the South.” This Gene Wyatt Award, named for a late SEFCA member, went this year to writer-director Scott Teems’ That Evening Sun, a drama starring Hal Holbrook as an elderly Tennessee farmer trying to reclaim his home.

The Florida Film Critics Circle, which has some membership overlap with SEFCA, agreed on several award winners. It gave its awards to Up in the Air, Clooney, Waltz, Mo’Nique and Up. FFCC gives a single award for original and adapted screenplays and this year it recognized the writers of (500) Days of Summer.

In an early ballot, it had been tied with Up in the Air. Other awards from FFCC included: Best Actress (Gabourey Sidibe, Precious), Best director (Reitman, Up in the Air), Best cinematography (Mauro Fiore, Avatar) Best Foreign Language Film (Sin Nombre), Best Documentary (The Cove) and the Breakout Award for outstanding newcomer went to Sidibe.

On occasion, the Florida Critics bestow a Golden Orange Award for an outstanding contribution to film in the state, but the group declined to issue the award this year.

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